MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. — The man once charged with terrorizing the Valley during the 2015 Freeway Shootings has been formally cleared by a judge.
“Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. has been cleared of any allegation or charge, and such a finding is in the interest of justice,” Maricopa County Superior Court Judge William Wingard said in a sealed court order last week.
The order was posted on Facebook by Merritt’s father, Leslie Merritt Sr.
“Thank God after years of waiting my son is legally innocent,” Merritt Sr. said.
The judged ordered all records in the case sealed from public view by the law enforcement agencies involved in the Merritt investigation and prosecution.
“I’m not surprised in the substance, because I have always believed and known of Leslie’s innocence,” said Merritt’s attorney, Jason Lamm.
“Most of all, I’m happy for him," Lamm said.
Five years ago this month, the Valley made national headlines with a series of shootings on Valley freeways.
Bullets fired on Interstate 10 and other freeways struck vehicles and shattered windshields but caused no injuries.
With tensions running high, Merritt’s arrest in September 2015 prompted Gov. Doug Ducey to tweet, “We got him!”
Ducey was widely criticized for convicting Merritt on social media.
Merritt, who worked as a landscaper, proclaimed his innocence from the start.
He was jailed for seven months, until his release in April 2016, when prosecutors conceded their case had been botched by the Department of Public Safety.
Merritt’s attorneys have won an undisclosed settlement from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in a federal court lawsuit.
The jury trial of Merritt’s lawsuit against the state of Arizona has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Former County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who oversaw the Merritt prosecution, had indicated in the past that charges could be refiled.
Merritt’s attorney says the judge’s new order slams the door on new charges.
“A judge clearing Leslie’s name and effectively declaring his innocence in the criminal case makes the refiling of charges about as likely as a blizzard in Phoenix tomorrow,” Lamm said.
The county attorney’s office and DPS have not responded to requests for comment.